The killing of eight polio workers in Pakistan in two days is a brutal reminder of the hurdles facing health teams trying to eradicate the virus from one of its few remaining strongholds.
Pakistan, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only countries where polio is endemic, which means transmission of the virus has never been halted.Who carried out the killings in Pakistan is unclear but the Taliban have repeatedly denounced the polio vaccination campaign claiming the workers are acting as spies for the US and that the virus causes sterility or HIV/AIDS. [Note that the UN squarely blames the Taliban]
Claims that the vaccine programme is a plot against Muslims have been around for years. They reached their peak in northern Nigeria in 2003 - when the immunisation programme was suspended following claims that the vaccine was contaminated with oestrogen and would cause infertility.
The year-long suspension of polio immunisation led to a major resurgence of the disease in Nigeria with hundreds of children becoming disabled.
This is the same kind of 14th century mentality that leads to the mistreatment of women and children. We can only hope that some form of enlightenment will seep more forcefully into these regions of the world, and soon.